Category Archives: Hollywood

If you film it, they might not come

Surprise, surprise. Hollywood is starting to think that maybe tossing gajillions of dollars at pet projects and stupid star vehicles isn’t so much of a good idea. After a 6 percent increase in costs and the death of the DVD market (don’t tell anyone, but you can get DVDs for free at libraries or on this “Internet” thing) and a series of flops like “Land of the Lost” (More like “Land of the Lost Profits!” Ha!) and “Funny People,” (More like…well, I already wrote about this…) the co-chairmen of Universal Studios, Marc Shmuger and David Linde, have been kicked right out the door. The chairman of Disney Studios, Dick Cook (and also, the worst name for a restaurant I can think of) left after a similar situation.

Now that the summer’s over and pretty much everything is out of theaters entirely, let’s take a look at the top 10 highest grossing films so far shall we? Let’s examine how well they fit the standard Hollywood model of overpaying for directors and actors/actresses so that the poster can have some moderately well-known name attached to it.

1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
I’m sure folks flocked to this because of Michael Bay and Megan Fox. Oh, wait. They just wanted giant, stupid robots. It’s probably in Ms. Fox’s best interest to know that excitable teenage boys can get the same amount of, if not more, happiness through doing a Google image search of her as they can from buying a ticket to “Jennifer’s Body.”

And robots don't come much stupider than this.

And robots don't come much stupider than this.

2. Harry Potter and Some Magic Stuff Happens
This speaks for itself. Moving on…

3. Up
Oh, wow. A well-made movie with a brand recognition built upon unrivaled creative success as opposed to a snide marketing scheme or a single heartthrob? I can imagine the Disney executives when they first realized just how awesome Pixar is…”You got quality in my movie!” one shouted, to which the other replied, “You got movies in my quality!” at which point they shrugged their shoulders and said, “At least we still have Return to Witch Mountain.”

4. The Hangover
Remember “Wedding Crashers?” This is that movie, but funnier. Again, the wolf pack’s success speaks for itself.

5. Star Trek
There simply aren’t enough “Star Trek” dweebs left on the planet to have put this so high up on the list, nor are there enough die-hard “Lost” devotees remaining to worship everything J.J Abrams has his name attached to (no matter how temporary his influence may be). The reason this did so well? It was a great film that even my mom could like.

6. Monsters vs. Aliens
I’d say this is just an example of “Hey, kids will go see anything,” but I saw it too. I guess 3D really does draw folks in…

7. Ice Age: This is really the third-highest grossing movie worldwide? Ever?
I’m going to need to sit down a bit and recover from this realization.

8. X-Men Origins: The Work Print

I know it was bad. No need to yell.

I know it was bad. No need to yell.

9. Night at the Museum wamdoawmfef
This is where I say, “Kids will watch anything.”

10. The Proposal
There’s always that one movie that everyone’s mom goes to see. Last year it was “Mamma Mia!” and the year before it was “Wild Hogs.”

Now let’s see…which of these films features a big A-list star? None? Oh, well which features a brand-name director? Just one, since Abrams needs a few more hits under his belt to certify that platinum status (a recognition completely based on revenues, since Bay is still a rubbish director).

At least Hollywood’s doing something to fix the broken model, as opposed to doing what I’d expect them to, try and do more of the same, but BIGGER. With more EXPLOSIONS. And carefully-hidden BREASTS.

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District 9: Rewind

Great sci-fi isn’t built upon the bluster of battlecrusiers exchanging laser fire while orbiting far-flung planets, nor is it initially constructed with an ornate, complex back-story with confounding names and outlandish technological advancements.

Great sci-fi hinges upon changing just a few major elements in the universe the visionary is creating, and then observing and analyzing natural human responses to these strange and wondrous alterations. All of the robots, lightsabers and ray guns in the world cannot corral a intriguing and compelling story, instead, truly engaging work uses them as garnish atop a story that ultimately hinges upon character interaction, not arbitrary set-pieces and tedious explosions.

Plenty has been said about District 9, and the praise has come in swarms, both from the critics corner and from the box office returns. So I won’t talk about just how fantastic the movie is, how its direction perfectly fluctuates between brutal realism, heartbreak and fantastically captivating action, how its allegorical and simple premise which, although dealing with familiar themes, is nonetheless refreshing.

Instead, I’d like to highlight something that I haven’t seen discussed much in the criticism or discussion of the film (and if it has, do be kind, I can’t be privy the Internet in its entirety).

Isn't this true of all films? It's not too often you see cats or fish in a movie theater...

Isn't this true of all films? It's not too often you see cats or fish in a movie theater...

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Those who repeat the past repeat the past repeat the past repeat the past repeat the past repeat the past repeat the past

Everyone complains about Hollywood’s reticence to create something new. The film industry has essential been a broken record for the past five years, with nearly every blockbuster having been based in intellectual properties that have already been established for decades. Superheroes, I’ve heard, originated in these things known as “comic books” that people would read on “paper.”

That doesn't look like Christian Bale at all...

That doesn't look like Christian Bale at all...

And before making “The Dark Knight,” director Christopher Nolan’s previous three films were all adaptations of previously established films or books. Just look at Tim Burton to see just how ridiculous the latest round of creative regurgitation has become. Did anyone want another “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Planet of the Apes,” or “Alice in Wonderland?” Adding some cliche Gothic-teenager-pandering art style and Johnny Depp doesn’t exactly warrant the pillaging of established and perfected properties.

Besides, those kids whose rooms were filled with “Nightmare Before Christmas” merchandise are all probably too busy sleeping on top of life-sized pillows of that Edward vampire guy to care all that much.

Not to mention their Edward toothbrushes...

Not to mention their Edward toothbrushes...

But at least those films are remakes of things that came out more than a decade prior. The new trend is to remake films that came out oh, say last year. First, the director behind “Cloverfield,” Matt Reeves, signed on to do an American version of the Swedish vampire flick “Let the Right One In.” That’s all well and good…except “Let the Right One In,” came out LAST YEAR. And the idea itself is already based off of a book to begin with!

And now, 2007’s splendid horror movie “The Orphanage” is being remade for U.S. audiences. Sure, the film peaked at 702 theaters in the U.S., but can’t we at least give people a chance to discover the original before we stuff a remake down their throats? It’s interesting to note that both films were foreign flicks, indicating that Hollywood, in all of its creative glory, is outsourcing any sort of original thought, testing the waters to see if it works, and then buying out the rights so that they can water it down and add breasts to the movie’s climax. I mean, c’mon. Even “Avatar,” which I assume will be released alongside Christ’s resurrection, is just “Dances with Wolves in Space.”

Has the national attention span really shriveled to such a small size? This deficit doesn’t just pertain to pop culture, just look at the political landscape, a bizarrely inept and fast-paced zone where Obama is already being written off as a lame duck despite not even having a year under his presidential belt, where the debate on both sides depends on hammering in a single talking point, remaking the same sentence over and over again until it just turns into two idiots blaring a watered-down, pointless message at one another, and then their audiences spit out the same drivel, at which point these placated pundits report their own vomit as news. Weekly polls on every issue determine public opinion, creating our predilections for policies anew each time anything’s approval dips toward 50 percent, ignoring the fact that if you tell everybody that everyone thinks a certain way, as opposed to letting them figure it out for themselves, you’re helping yourself to a predisposed national opinion.

I guess it’s just easier to rely on the thoughts of our forefathers, PR goons and easily-plundered intellectual property than create something new.

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Have gun, will travel

He holds a counter productively-large gun, eyes in a wrinkled, taut squint with a mouth distracted by a cigarette, a toothpick or just the undeniable urge to contort into an ever-shrinking sneer. The criminals, those entitled, slimy scumbags with leering, sprinting eyes running suicides atop their sunglasses, stumble down alleyways opposite the man with the scrunched face. But he’s no longer a man, he’s the law, the living embodiment of the boiling revenge that sits on society’s stove until someone’s brave enough to put on the oven mitts of justice, grab hold of the scalding kettle and drain a culture’s repressed vengeful and just desires with a single minded righteous fury that few can summon.

The vigilante, that time-honored, hard-broiled, overly-narrated icon of American iconography. Just think about how dominant the idea of not just a tough guy, but a tough guy who isn’t bound by rules or societal norms, whose actions are determined by pure emotion and driven by instinct. The cowboy epitomizes the lone, lawless figure. The 20th century in particular has been inundated with vigilantes, or at least characters who live by the same code of conduct. Nearly every character Clint Eastwood has played, almost every superhero, a good number of John Wayne’s roles and of course, the ever-present anti-hero of the past few decades, contains the same personification of lawlessness and inherent disapproval of authority, regardless of their role within or outside of the system. Even before then, the glamorization of Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok and other lawless gunmen held their own.

They all looked like they needed some fun...

They all looked like they needed some fun...

I bring this topic forward because I recently saw “Taxi Driver” for the first time, and while the film is a powerful piece of work, the following it has received is even more interesting than the movie. There are plenty of people who like Taxi Driver, and many folks who have recommended the film to me have this amped-up, excited  attitude toward it, a sentiment that is bizarre given the proceedings of the film. It’s not a movie that brought me excitement, there was no adrenaline rush, only a lingering and compounding sense of dread.

The catchphrase from the film, the oft-repeated, “Are you talkin’ to me” routine has been turned into a celebration of masculinity, because the reaction of many is that they want to be Travis Bickle, they want to be completely unrestrained, to be so lost that they’ve found a clear-cut idea free of the haze of societal morality. Bickle isn’t necessarily someone to be admired, it’s open to interpretation as to whether or not his actions, as fueled by delusion and madness as they were, were ultimately worthy of condemnation or praise. But more often than not, people decide that the ends justify the means, even if the means involve a severe detachment from reality.

Just think of the hooplah over “The Dark Knight” (and we’re talking thematically, not the initial outpouring of interest due to Heath Ledger’s tragedy). It wasn’t because everyone was captivated by Batman, it was because his vigilante spirit was completely overshadowed by that of the Joker’s. In the villain, audiences found someone who took the attitude of the likes of Dirty Harry, “Death Wish’s” Paul Kersey and Bickle to its ultimate conclusion. The complete sovereignty of the individual over society, a complete removal from social constructs and the demotion of humanity to the status of animals. Vigilantes are driven by their individual senses of justice, this is what limits them from going completely off the wall, because fundamentally, their justice is dictated by the purest form of justice that their society tends to stray from. Push a vigilante to his breaking point, and that moralistic sense of justice will disappear.

I mean, Jack Bauer does the sort of thing the Joker would love to do in his spare time...

I mean, Jack Bauer does the sort of thing the Joker would love to do in his spare time...

If anything, the vigilante’s admiration has made a comeback in recent years, with the ongoing resurgence of the superhero as a prominent archetype. Just look at the way in which the vigilante activity was handled in the “Watchmen” film compared to its literary counterpart. In the comic book, the actual violence is far from the focus of the narrative, it’s handled as a revoltingly brutal activity that is always handled without any sense of glorification. The film, on the other hand, bathes itself in the gore, the degree of violence was featured heavily in the promotional activities and fight scenes were edited, emphasized and even created out of thin air. The viewer is left with the impulse to think, “Oh, this is so bada**,” instead of the, “Ugh, do they have to?” in the book. The film treats vigilantism as awesome, while the book treats it with moral ambiguity. And it should come as no surprise that the comic was written by an Englishman, while the film was directed by an American.

It’s interesting to see that, during the reemergence of the “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” syndrome, especially in reaction to Obama (who is apprently a clone of some Egyptian dude now…) that Clint Eastwood’s “final” film, “Gran Torino” features a conclusion that forgoes the typical vigilante bloodbath between the hero and criminal scum, but instead revolves around utilizing the civic spirit from which vigilantism stems to use law enforcement against scum. If Dirty Harry renounces violence and its glorification, what does that say about the legitimacy of those who look at Taxi Driver and think, “Awesome!”

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Comedians dying of cancer is funny…right?

Let’s talk about Funny People. Note the capitalization, so we’re not actually talking about humorous things, of jokes and quips that we find hilarious via our own thought processes. We’re talking about the upcoming film, with a title just as brilliant as those cinema classics, “Guns ‘n Stuff,” “A Breakup, Followed by Moping, Followed by Prince Charming,” and “Buy These Toys.” Since it hasn’t hit the theaters yet, I can’t really editorialize on the content of the film itself, just on the way in which it’s being presented.

And boy oh boy is there a lot to say about its marketing.

Usually, for generic comedy X (and Judd Apatow’s style of humor is becoming generic, like it or not) the trailer with feature some quick quips, perhaps some goofy physical pratfalls, pretty much a preview of the sort of hilarity you would hope to see in the entire feature. But not Funny People. See, Funny People is above actually showing humor, instead, it tells you how hilarious it is. Are you wondering whether or not Jonah Hill’s character in the film is hilarious? Well don’t worry, he doesn’t say anything sidesplitting, but he has a hugely successful YouTube video. If you can’t trust imaginary Internet users, then who can you put your faith in?

Is Seth Rogen a truly worthy up-and-coming stand-up comedian? His clips in the trailer may not impress, but a co-worker mentions that a terrible joke of his is kind of funny, so of course we should feel the same! Is Adam Sandler the funniest comedian in the world? Well…not really, oh wait! Everyone in the trailers seems completely bowled over by his hilarity, so I guess I…wait, is he telling a phallic joke that isn’t even worthy of an unforced grin? Funny People, you almost had me there, you almost had me fooled. And to think I thought that Funny People would include, you know, funny people!

And in case you didn’t know, the movie’s actually about Sandler’s character getting a life-ending disease or something, and is inching toward his inevitable death when it suddenly goes into remission so that Apatow can showcase his wife as “the girl that got away.” This sounds hilarious, doesn’t it?

Let’s compare the first trailer…

With a newer trailer…

I know how Sandler’s illness went into remission! The marketers just sliced it out entirely!

Well, either that or either Apatow or Universal don’t have any confidence in marketing the film as what it probably actually is…one can only hope that it turns out in the same way as the equally horribly marketed “In Bruges.”

Suck it up and see this film. It's fantastic.

Suck it up and see this film. It's fantastic.


Filed under Hollywood, Monkeys

Spend weeks in your basement playing video games gearing up for this one. I know I will be.

For a while there I really thought there was a betterment in the standards of the movie industry. Obviously there were always exceptions, but the last couple years I’ve been an advocate for the path Hollywood was taking, producing some pretty good movies on high budgets with big name actors. I mentioned it in the bit about Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are. Awesome concept. Then the pretty cool direction the sub-genre of comic epics.

But I have officially been proved wrong. Perhaps it’s a tanked economy. Perhaps it’s desperation. Who knows. The man who brought us the incredibly revered Drag Me To Hell, Sam Raimi (also responsible for the Spiderman movies, which are a little cheesy compared to the better of that genre) is about to make a World of Warcraft Movie. Here’s a little bit of his work:

Yes, this is only a taste of some of the theme’s you’ll get in the WOW movie. I particularly like the seance. And that old woman’s teeth. Maybe there will be some awesome ghouls in this or some giant, badass, green hairy piglike creatures.

I’m going to say right now, too, that I have no knowledge of whether Warcraft is  good game or not. I’ve never played it.

I did play Zelda, which was awesome. I mean I spent hours coming home and fulfilling the incredible, action-packed quest of Link. But in no way shape or form would I want to see a movie made out of that.

All this comes in the wake of an announcement of a movie based on Asteroids, which is only cool cause it was before the days of video game plot. Great movie material. A NYT column takes a pretty decent stab at what that will be like.

So all of this is not necessarily to chastise the industry as a whole, because decent movies are still being put out–hence the other posts I had on this subject. But it’s almost an insult to the movie going population to be offered famous video games repackaged into a two-hour excuse to blow some stuff up.

The only thing that would redeem this is if they can pull it off with a kind of postmodern feel to it, a fresh perspective on it that takes itself lightly. But then the people who are absolutely in love with WOW will uproar. Sorry, Mr. Raimi, but you might have picked a doomed project.


Filed under Business, Culture wars, Hollywood, Jack Dodson, Media

The Ever Expanding Comic Book Film Industry

If you’ve ever seen some of the old Batman cartoons or that utterly ridiculous rendition with Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, you can appreciate the leaps and bounds taken by Marvel and DC Comics over the last few years in the film world.

Developed through a sense of actually-decent film making in the Spiderman and X-Men series–at least in comparison to the large budget, non-thought out style of the last few decades–the two comic book titans have started to boast their4 abilities to fund better movies, and it’s most obvious in the choice of actors.

Alongside a couple serious movies, an Aronofsky film being one of them, Natalie Portman has signed on to do Thor, which is set for release in 2011. Granted, she got her start in the Star Wars series, but she has developed into a respected actress, and can bring a larger audience to the movie.

The same was true with Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk, Tobey Maguire in Spiderman only three years after The Cider House Rules, one of Robert Downy Jr.’s big return movies in Iron Man.

Also noteworthy, former Van Wilder Ryan Reynolds will be Green Lantern. He’s married to Scarlett Johansson, so that makes him respectable, I guess, if only for the sheer fact that any guy would appreciate that.

The real idea here, though, is not just in the better quality of the actors. That’s not entirely new–remember Jack Nicholson as the Joker? More than that, it’s testament to the developing genre that is actually producing some good movies. It’s one that has big plans, too, with Captain America, Green Lantern, Thor, and The Avengers all announced in the last year.

Of course, The Dark Knight can’t escape being categorized into this. It’s DC’s baby over the last few years and damn near took Titanic’s title. I remember. I saw it seven times in theaters.

While none have quite reached the same level as Chris Nolan’s brainchild, which made it as far as winning two Oscars and nominated for another six, it still begs attention, this new genre. It’s used the success of some of the earlier, halfway decent movies, to build a future that film lovers and comic nerds alike hope to see produce some good work

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Roland Emmerich makes the same movie.. again.

Watching the tralier for the new movie from the director of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between, well, all of these movies. The concept of humans trying to live through the end of time, and fighting against fate and all that. And top it off with some great big explosions, a little bit of a love story, some suspense, and it’s all there.

You can tell just from watching the preview–John Cusack comes in off the bench to take the place of Dennis Quaid and you sub climate change for the Mayan calendar’s apocolyptic prediction (both of which are controversial social issues, obviously) and you have a brand new movie.

So, needless to say, I’m very excited to spend 8 dollars to watch the same thing I watched four or five years ago. Just pre-ordered my tickets, actually.

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Show bum, hump strangers, mock hicks, repeat

The “Bruno” press assault has finally left town (but don’t worry, in a few years when Sacha Baron Cohen disguises himself as a Brazilian woman to expose the prejudices against the opposite sex in “Bertha” the same media blitzkrieg will take place) and I can’t help but be simultaneously smug and disappointed in its wake.

I was siding more with the, “Bruno looks like a massive, counter-intuitive beast” crowd that held their expectations for the film in check while the rest of the world seemed to fawn over Cohen, with the progressively gaudier premiers and increasingly bland talk show appearances (until he gave up the Bruno act altogether to appear on “The Late Show with David Letterman”). But in the back of my head, I held the expectation that despite my snooty disbelief that lightning could strike twice after the brilliance of “Borat,” the film would jump out and pleasantly surprise me.

But it didn’t. That’s not to say that “Bruno” is completely without merits (it’s just not worth paying for). There are sheltered moments of brilliance, whether it be two identically vapid Los Angeles blondes idiotically trying to offer PR support for starting a charity, the degenerate nature of stage parents or homosexual converters. These snippets all share a common thread, one that reveals the film’s fundamental flaw.

When Cohen is at his best, he manages to sneak into the background, despite the ridiculousness of his character, and make those subjected to his behavior take the limelight, via their own preposterous nature. For all of the fuss that’s made about his stunts, the moments in which he serves as a bizarre straight man to the preposterous everyday man where his work creates the greatest impact.

In the shock of the century, Cohen exposed fans of cage match fighting as base, animalistic boors with a penchant for cheap beer and bloodlust, along with a startling ignorance of their beloved entertainment's homosexual undertones. Also, clouds vary between white and dark gray.

In the shock of the century, Cohen exposed fans of cage match fighting as base, animalistic boors with a penchant for cheap beer and bloodlust, along with a startling ignorance of their beloved entertainment's homosexual undertones. Also, clouds vary between white and dark gray.

Unfortunately, much of “Bruno” is focused around the title character, who is irritating, invasive and routinely unfunny. Of course, the character is supposed to be a annoying, air-headed waste, but Borat was an anti-semitic, callous anti-feminist, and he was bizarrely endearing. That, I think, was thanks to the way in which Borat was portrayed as a product of his environment much more so then Bruno, and that deep down, the viewer has no problem believing that no matter how many Jew eggs he seeks to smash, Borat is a pretty nice guy, he’s just strange by our standards.

It must also be mentioned that “Bruno” ultimately feels like the work of another studio trying to remake the success of “Borat.” The way in which the two films don’t just share similar story elements and arcs, but have the same progression is ultimately inexcusable. No one’s asking for brilliant script here, the strength of the comedy lies in the unscripted moments, but “Bruno’s” story is the same as its predecessor, and along with reeking of a lack of effort, it left me leaving the theater a bit bitter.

“Borat” was a film born from madness, from a twisted delight in seeing various groups squirm in the face of the bizarre and audiences shrink back from hairy, naked man-on-man wrestling through hotel hallways. It was a film that succeeded to the degree it did against all odds. Let’s remember that “Borat” opened in only 837 theaters. I rode about 40 minutes to see it on opening day, to a jam-packed theater that did not cease laughing. “Bruno” opened in 2,756 theaters.

“Bruno” is a film created for fiscal gain, by a studio whose summer release calendar desperately needed a buzz-worthy film, especially after realizing that “Land of the Lost” was set to be their great white hope. Despite its slapping, buoyant male nudity and early montage of toe-curling sex acts, “Bruno” has the fingerprints of studio intervention all over it. The removal of a scene with LaToya Jackson notwithstanding (since when has Cohen actually been concerned about poor taste and other such niceties?) the main thrust of “Bruno” is not its humor, its the “Fear Factor” feel to the film. Studio executives saw “Borat” and being as dumb as they usually are, thought that the key to its success was its controversy-inducing depictions of nudity and not its sly, subversive wit.

So “Bruno” is, to put it simply, mostly a serious of scenes in which Cohen tries to one-up his own boundary-pushing, instead of trying to elevate his own sizable comedic wit. The key to “Borat” was whether or not the situations would make the audience laugh, while the evident key to its counterparts worst moments is whether or not the film will make people cringe in their seats, comedy be damned.

This is Bruno's bum. If you laugh at it, close your eyes and then look at it again and find yourself just as amused the second time, then a third, etc...this film's for you.

This is Bruno's bum. If you laugh at it, close your eyes and then look at it again and find yourself just as amused the second time, then a third, etc...this film's for you.

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If this isn’t the best thing you see online today…

Then you’re looking at a much better Internet than I am.

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